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Marine Life & Conservation

FINished with Fins

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I’m Sharon Kwok, a Eurasian American born in Hong Kong but growing up in both places. Consequently I’m in a position to appreciate both cultures. Until recent years, every banquet I attended seemed to include shark fin soup. Although the exact origin of this ostentatious dish is shrouded in mystery, we do know it had to come from China’s southern coastal regions, and it was never a favourite of the Northern Chinese. Therefore l doubt the truthfulness of claims that it was a fancy dish created for the Emperor; perhaps it was a fancy marketing ploy, but we’ll never know for sure. I’ve heard a version of shark fin soup’s origin being simply the fishermen’s frugal use of their catch. In bygone days, any obviously useful parts would either be sold fresh or salted to survive a trip to inland China. Thus, they figured out a way to make the fins edible, then palatable via the tasty ingredients used in the broth because the fins are virtually tasteless but for their fishiness.

Over the past several years, concerned parties have noticed a dramatic decline in sharks. So while businesses who deal in shark fins try to catch as much as possible while they’re still around, conservation groups are doing their best to preserve the species. In a bold move, on June 30th 2010, Hawaii started an avalanche of legal opposition to this Chinese dish; very appropriate seeing as their native population respect not only sharks but also their Shark-God ‘Kamoho’. In 2011, I was involved with lobbying for AB 376, California’s ban on the trade in shark fins. This bill was met with serious and well funded opposition due to the size of the older Chinese community in California, many of whom have business interests in the restaurant or dried seafood trade (a trade which often stretched to Asia due to much of the fins from southern American seas funnelling through California). Governor Jerry Brown signed AB376 in Oct 2011 and even after several legal attempts to overthrow it, it holds fast. This movement went swiftly to other states and even countries but the most opposition is in Asia. Living in Hong Kong, I’m at ground Zero of the trade. Fellow advocates and l try to affect change wherever and however we can, from convincing hotels to opt for ‘fin-free’ menus to pressurising airlines to stop carrying them. We also raise awareness via education in schools or raise public awareness through media. As a whole, we are thrilled to see results and sometimes, big changes such as the latest big coupe in Asia which saw Bruni’s Sultan effecting a national ban of all catch-and-landing of sharks this June.

Sharon Kwok shark fin freezers Hong Kong 2011

The reason for all the fuss isn’t merely humane issues although that should be a strong enough one because most fins come from ‘finning’ rather than as a by-product of fishing. Finning is when sharks are caught only for their fins and their bodies are thrown back into the ocean to die a torturous death. This happens because there are insufficient regulations. Fisheries that target fins send their massive boats out to collect as much high yielding goods as possible, and while a pound of perfectly edible shark meat might sell for a few U.S. dollars, a pound of premium fin could sell for a few hundred. Since many large shark species take decades to reach sexual maturity and bear but a few young infrequently, these apex predators do not multiply quickly enough to cope with the insatiable demand…and because dried fins can be kept indefinitely, fisheries will literally take all they can for the unsustainable trade.

Perhaps a more important reason for putting a stop to this is the preservation of our oceans as we know it. Sharks have been here since pre-Jurassic times and they are a vital link that maintain the biodiversity of our marine ecology. We know that they’ve never come under the level of predation they’re currently suffering and their numbers are in obvious decline, but we don’t know for sure what their disappearance will mean to us. However, do we want to risk it? Dare we? Our oceans cover well over three quarters of the Earth’s surface. It helps maintain our climate as well as providing us with water and much of our oxygen. We are custodians of our resources so that future generations may enjoy them so at this time, one of the most  responsible things to do is to say ‘NO’ to shark fin soup.

Sharon Kwok was born in Hong Kong of a Chinese mother and an American father of Germanic descent. She has taught arts at the Asian Arts Institute, enjoyed a career in acting (and has appeared in over a dozen films as well as worked at T.V.B., RTHK, and ATV Hong Kong), is a member of The White Crane Martial Arts Group International and is a keen scuba diver. Sharon has supported charities such as Lifeline Express, Youth Outreach, Make A Wish Foundation, and Prevent Child Sexual Abuse to name a few. A member of The Society of Women Geographers, ambassador for SPCA H.K., Hong Kong Cetacean Research Project, and Bloom, Sharon is also Director of WildAid HK, Mission Blue, and Executive Director of the AquaMeridian Conservation & Education Foundation, which is a registered non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness of conservation issues globally, starting with Hong Kong.

Marine Life & Conservation

The Big Shark Pledge: Shark Trust’s new campaign kicks off with a call for support

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With the ink still drying on last week’s landmark listing of nearly 100 species of sharks on Appendix II of CITES, the Shark Trust insists that this is not the time for shark conservation to take a break. The UK-based NGO this week launches its biggest-ever concerted campaign to tackle the overfishing of oceanic sharks. They are calling on people across the world to join the call for stricter controls on high seas fisheries.

The Big Shark Pledge is at the heart of an ambitious set of campaign actions. Working to secure science-based catch limits on all sharks and rays affected by the international high seas fishing fleet. The pledge will build the largest campaigning community in shark and ray conservation history to support a raft of policy actions over the vital years ahead.

Many of our best known and much-loved sharks make their home on the high seas. In our shared ocean, these oceanic sharks and rays face a very real threat from a huge international fleet of industrial-scale fishing vessels. Research published in early 2021 confirmed that over three-quarters of oceanic sharks and rays are now at risk of extinction due to the destructive impact of overfishing. They have declined by 71% over the last 50 years.

The Shark Trust is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year and has a long history of securing positive changes for sharks, skates and rays. The Big Shark Pledge will build on the success of their NoLimits? campaign which underpinned landmark catch limits on Blue Sharks and Shortfin Mako in the North Atlantic.

While the listing of so many species on the CITES trade agreement is certainly a positive step, there remains a huge challenge in ensuring that sustainable practices are embedded in international fisheries.” says Shark Trust Director of conservation, Ali Hood. “Sharks on the high seas face extraordinary pressure from excessive fishing practices. This has to be addressed through international agreements such as those secured for Blues and makos.”

There is hope and a feeling of momentum in the shark conservation community. Just last week, in addition to the new CITES listings, the Shark Trust, working with partners in the Shark League, secured the first-ever international quota for South Atlantic Mako at ICCAT meeting in Portugal. The new campaign from the Shark Trust aims to push forwards from here, engaging a wave of support through the Big Shark Pledge to bolster policy action.

This will be a long-term international and collaborative effort. Forging a pathway to rebuild populations of high-seas sharks and rays. By putting science at the heart of shark conservation and fisheries management. And making the vital changes needed to set populations on the road to recovery.

Shark Trust CEO Paul Cox says of the Big Shark Pledge “It’s designed to give everyone who cares about the future of sharks the chance to add their voice to effective and proven conservation action. By adding their name to the Pledge, supporters will be given opportunities to apply pressure at key moments to influence change.

Click here to sign the Big Shark Pledge

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Gear News

Fourth Element X Sea Shepherd

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This year on Black Friday, fourth element announced their new partnership with Sea Shepherd, encouraging people to move away from mindless purchasing and to opt-in to supporting something powerful.

For 40 years Sea Shepherd, a leading non-profit organisation, has been patrolling the high seas with the sole mission to protect and conserve the world’s oceans and marine wildlife. They work to defend all marine wildlife, from whales and dolphins, to sharks and rays, to fish and krill, without exception.

Inspired by Sea Shepherd’s mission, fourth element have created a collection of fourth element X Sea Shepherd limited edition products for ocean lovers and protectors, with 15% of every sale going to the Sea Shepherd fund to help continue to drive conservation efforts globally.

“Working with Sea Shepherd gives fourth element the opportunity to join forces with one of the largest active conservation organisations in the world to try to catalyse change in people’s attitudes and behaviour. Fourth Element’s products are designed, developed and packaged with the intention of minimising our impact on the ocean environment, and with this partnership, we will be supporting the work of Sea Shepherd, in particular in their work on dealing with the twin threats of Ghost fishing nets and plastic pollution.”

Jim Standing fourth element co-founder

Read fourth element’s Sea Shepherd Opinion Piece HERE

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